From The Table to the Tablet

The Metamorphosis of our Hobby

The evolution of gamingConsidered by some to be the granddaddy of video games, tabletop gaming has stayed strong throughout the decades, not just surviving, but evolving to accommodate the needs and wants of each new generation of players. For many of these games, the most drastic changes they encounter are the implementation of new rules or the presentations of new artists and art styles. Some tabletop games, however, have pushed the envelope, and surprisingly, gone digital.

And we’re not just talking about the high-tech gaming boards we’ve come to see, which allow players to better visualize the imaginary worlds they’re playing in for an obscene price tag of thousands of dollars. We’re talking about what’s deep within the games themselves, as some of the biggest, most well-known tabletop games launch for digital platforms.

There are hundreds of digital tabletop games available to those who know where to look, using the mechanics of tabletop games and bringing them to more modern platforms such as desktop computers and laptops. More recently, we’ve seen many of these games begin to go mobile, taking full advantage of the increasingly profitable market of mobile games and presenting themselves as wonderful additions to any casual gamer’s arsenal of mobile games. But how is this trend of going digital really affecting tabletop gaming?

Further Reach & Possibilities, At What Cost?

For starters, there are more people who have become interested in playing tabletop games, thanks to the convenience afforded by these new platforms. A blog post on AlchemyBet, the owners of mobile gaming website Pocket Fruity, has revealed that we now play games on our mobiles everywhere from at church to at school or work, at the gym, and on the bus, and that some have even admitted to missing classes or important meetings from playing too many mobile games. Their appeal is undeniable, and the launch of tabletop games on mobile devices have made them more accessible to a wider audience. I know I’m currently addicted to the Evolve: Hunter’s Quest way, way more than I should be.

But then, at the same time, some might argue that this convenience takes away from the experience of playing a tabletop game. After all – is it really still a tabletop game if you don’t play it with friends around a table? If everything you need – including cards and dice – are found within the game itself? If your collection of Magic cards can be reduced from boxes of paper into digital bytes of data? With digital tabletop games, there’s no more arguing with friends and roleplaying – only clicks of a mouse or taps of a finger. The pros and cons feel endless.

Buckle Up, This Is Just The Beginning

ArmelloStill, it’s undeniable how wonderfully tabletop games have transitioned to mobile and digital platforms. Humble Bundle just finished running a Humble Card Bundle for two weeks, showcasing some of the best card games that have transitioned to mobile and desktop computers, and it’s inspiring to see some of our more beloved games in the list.

Perhaps the best example of stellar tabletop mobile gaming, however, is Armello, a four-player digital tabletop gaming experience for the iPad, which also launched on Steam for PC and Mac after an extremely successful campaign on Kickstarter. Beautiful graphics and rich gameplay make it a forerunner in the market, and it shows just how well tabletop games could be made for mobile. Don’t believe me? Check out their video for the Steam early access launch.

What do you think? Some games are even blending both worlds like Fantasy Flight’s recent launch of their X-COM board game that requires a mobile app just to play the tabletop version. Will tabletop games find their future in mobile and digital platforms, or are we better off keeping to the classics and huddling around a board on game night? Let me know in the comments!

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article. There has certainly been a need to incorporate digital platforms more and more, even in strictly tabletop RPGs. Take for example my use of Pathfinder. Now, I only play tabletop games (apart from an annual Online guest spot with KillerVP on his Obsidian Portal site, “A God … Rebuilt.” But even in my own games – both the ones I run and the ones I play in in Glasgow, I use Obisidian Portal as a guide for my campaign, the excellent Pathfinder online reference that is the PFSRD and also keep my Tablet at the table, with a downloaded Pathfinder Source Reference for Android (because we don’t always get Wifi where we play) and lately, also a HERO LAB for ANDROID platform.

    Now all the above is still used in conjunction with a fully TABLETOP experience using vinyl grid mat, real dice and miniatures, but it just goes to show the level of digital enhancement involved in today’s modern game.

    Mark Osborn aka twiggyleaf

  2. Good post, I’m looking forward to testing out Tabletop Simulator for RPGs and board games. A big part of that is that roll20 does not have an easy way to share modules, whereas Tabletop Simulator has the steam workshop.

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